Participation of EU countries in BRI injecting new momentum

By Wang Bing
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 24, 2019
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Staff unload containers from the freight train X8044 after the train from Hamburg of Germany arrived at Wujiashan railway container center station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province, Aug. 26, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

In March, Italy formally joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making it the first G7 country to do so. Just a few days ahead of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, Switzerland announced it would sign a memorandum of understanding on the BRI and third-party market cooperation with China. 

During the visit of Premier Li Keqiang to Europe earlier this month, the EU and China reached agreement on linking the BRI with the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy and Trans-European Transport Network. 

All of these developments demonstrate that the achievements of the BRI made in more than five years are changing European attitudes and bringing new vitality to the initiative.

EU participation makes BRI more influential

China and the EU have a long history of working together. A good example is the "16+1" cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, begun in 2012 with the first leaders' meeting in Warsaw, Poland. 

EU countries that have not formally joined the BRI already enjoy in-depth cooperation with China. The China-France joint project building the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the U.K. is a perfect demonstration of China-EU cooperation for mutual benefit. 

On March 29 this year, the Federal Association of the German Silk Road Initiative (BVDSI) was founded in Bremen. The EU, dating back to the initial European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, has accumulated extensive experience in internal market connectivity, the establishment of a transnational infrastructure network and partnerships at all levels so more countries formally joining BRI construction projects will further enhance its international influence.

Political trust between China and the EU enhanced

The trust created through such cooperation can spill over to other fields, an effect which is particularly prominent in BRI-related projects. Based on the principle of consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, bilateral cooperation in economy and trade will inevitably generate more trust between China and the EU in politics and security. 

People visit the exhibition on the achievements of cooperation between China and the 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 7, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

In fact, among the relationships China has with major powers, that with Europe is the most stable in the four decades since China's reform and opening up programs began. Despite some claims that "16+1" cooperation may undermine EU unity, it turns out that China's cooperation with CEE countries has benefited these countries, narrowed the internal development gap and contributed to European integration. With more EU countries joining the BRI family, European doubts will be further eliminated and the basis for cooperation expanded.

China will match international standards more quickly and enhance its say in making new international rules

Some Chinese companies suffered setbacks at the beginning of doing business overseas, because they were not familiar enough with international rules and standards. The "collective" participation of EU countries in the BRI will surely bring about the integration of Chinese and European standards and rules. 

As a leader in formulating engineering and technical standards, rules on international investment and trade, Europe has put forward principles of sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity in the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy. 

In-depth linking with the European strategy will inevitably force Chinese companies to improve their corporate governance, and help China improve domestic laws and regulations. This will not only ensure high-quality development for BRI projects, but also enhance China's voice in making international rules. 

The BRI will enhance cooperation on global governance, providing solutions to common challenges

Amid the current rising trend of protectionism and unilateralism, China and the EU provides a link between the world's second and third largest economies, as well as with the wider area of East Asia, the most dynamic region in the world. 

The improvements in people's livelihood and the narrowing wealth gap brought about by the BRI will help eliminate the root causes of conflicts and wars. China-EU cooperation on renewable energy and sustainable development will definitely change the world's traditional oil-based geopolitics, helping more countries achieve energy independence and ensure the international order becomes more just and rational. 

China and the EU can also use the BRI as a platform to contribute to solving regional hotspot issues and non-traditional security challenges, thus filling the gap of leadership and offering solutions in global governance.

In short, as more EU countries embrace the BRI with the launching of joint projects, China and its European partners will increasingly form a regional Community of Shared Future with intertwined interests, thus accumulating valuable experiences for building such a community on a global scale. Good news on successful cooperation between the two sides will continue to emerge, so watch this space.

Wang Bing is a scholar of international relations and Lecturer, University of Science and Technology Beijing.

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